From Hollywood To Home - Historic Archives Returned To Norfolk

By David Prudames | 07 December 2004
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Shows a photograph of Dr John Alban examining a historic document with a magnifying glass.

John Alban, County Archivist for Norfolk County Council, takes a close look at the latest acquisitions. Photo: Matthew Usher/ Eastern Daily Press.

It’s almost a plot worthy of Hollywood’s finest, but an archive of historic documents is back in Norwich after leaving the country for Beverly Hills over 50 years ago.

Taken to the USA by a Hollywood film director, the records document the history of the manor of Surlingham near Norwich and will now be housed at Norfolk Record Office.

"These documents, which form an extremely important collection spanning several centuries, also have an extraordinarily interesting recent history," said Dr John Alban, County Archivist, Norfolk County Council.

"They have been out of the country for many years and we are delighted to have them back in Norfolk."

Shows a photograph of an open record book, with Dr John Alban in the background reading.

Photo: Matthew Usher/ Eastern Daily Press.

Dating from 1602 right up to the 20th century, the documents were acquired by John Villiers Farrow in 1937 when he bought the lordship of the manor of Surlingham.

An Australian, Farrow was a naval commander during the Second World War, but was also a well-known Hollywood director, screenwriter and producer, who lived in Beverly Hills.

He is well known as the father of actress Mia Farrow, but it's as an absentee lord of the manor that he plays his part in this drama. He took the documents back to the States with him.

"These documents have been all the way to Hollywood and back, and are now going to play a starring role back here in Norfolk," explained Dr Alban.

It is not known why Farrow purchased Surlingham manor, but some time later he donated the records to the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Shows a photograph of historic documents and books laid out on a table.

Photo: Matthew Usher/ Eastern Daily Press.

For many years they were held in the university’s Archives and Manuscripts Department at the Doheny Memorial Library. Recently however, they came to Norfolk Record Office’s attention through their appearance on the Historical Manuscript Commission’s electronic Manorial Documents Register for Norfolk.

They were also tracked down by archive user Mr. Fred Morris whose quest for the Surlingham documents started 10 years ago as he tried to prove the age of his cottage.

Eventually it was decided that the best place for the whole archive would be back home at Norfolk Record Office.

"We have had numerous requests by genealogists and local Norfolk landowners for information from these records," explained Dr Claude Zachary, University of Southern California Archivist.

Shows a photograph of a historic record book with marble-effect front cover.

Photo: Matthew Usher/ Eastern Daily Press.

"I feel it would be in everyone's best interest that these records be returned to the Norfolk County Archives."

The extensive group of records includes the books, rolls and minutes of the manor courts from 1602 to 1925, together with several rentals, deeds, plans and miscellaneous papers.

Existing from the time of William the Conqueror to its demise in the early 20th century, the manorial system was the framework for life in much of England and Wales.

Manorial courts were held and produced many documents and manorial records include surveys, court rolls, maps, rentals and extents.

They are an invaluable source for genealogists, local historians and social and economic historians and have statutory protection under the Manorial Documents Rules, enforced by the National Archives on behalf of the Master of the Rolls.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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